Friday, October 05, 2007
House of Mirth
We were just coming back from our walk yesterday when I took this. My office is the room with the weird shaped windows. We used to have a propane tank painted to look like a submarine, but then it was taken away when we used up all the gas. I've procrastinated decorating this one. The wood pile got knocked around by a bear while we were away. We haven't seen further sign of the bear this trip. The weather has been dark and stormy which makes the yellow of the aspens all the more intense.
I finished Edith Wharton's "House of Mirth" last night. I'd read other books by her but not that one, or maybe I've just totally forgotten. It describes high society New York/Long Island life with great sardonic care, exact details described to portray a vacuous and luxurious lifestyle where everyone is watching everyone else for validation of importance and income. It follows one woman's spiral downward: she's unmarried at 29, still beautiful and in the groove of that lifestyle.
It's written with great care, and was hugely popular when published. Not being a fan of Henry James, I found the language a little ponderous. I imagine it's tricky to teach this book in college because there's a rich, pushy stereotype character who wants to marry her and the characterization is anything but pc. There's a sense that this would be the worst thing she could have done.
Actually I'd have preferred the ending if she HAD married him:
One way in which the rich have since changed: in the book Lily Bart wonders "Why are the rich always so fat?" and of course now it's "Why are the rich so thin?"
Those big houses built in the Industrialist age always intrigued me. I have about 20 pounds of magazines here documenting them, "Country Life in America".
They were helping people adjust to suburban life in a grand style, and feature articles on keeping chickens, (a society thing at the time), sleeping outdoors, the Sierra club, swimming pools, and my favorite, an article about a pet Condor! Sorry the image is blurry, but my camera doesn't do close up well.
I can lose myself in a fantasy world as I look through these magazines, but I never think of that life being like what Edith Wharton portrayed... but of course it was. The main reason those houses were so big was for the house guests and house parties which were de rigeur.